• Talent, expertise and benevolence can effectively replace hard selling techniques in real estate.

Texas-based Woodlands Eco Realty broker-owner Priyanka Johri once stopped at a garage sale and started talking to the homeowners who lived there. They were moving to Chicago the next day, they said — yet for six months, their house had failed to sell.

Johri asked to take a look at the home, explaining that she was a real estate agent, and then spent two and a half hours re-staging it — moving furniture, taking photos off the mantelpiece.

“Why are you selling that rug? You need it in the living room,” she told the homeowners, extracting it from the garage sale.

The home got an offer almost immediately, and the homeowners rang Johri the next day — though she hadn’t left any contact details, they managed to find her — to thank her and see if they could give her a fee.

Priyanka Johri

Johri told them not to worry and to pay their agent who had done the hard work for past six months. But the Chicago-bound couple didn’t forget her. They encouraged other friends to interview her when it came time to sell their home three months later.

As a trained senior petroleum geologist who came to the Lone Star State to study and launch a career in the oil industry, Johri now finds herself in a completely different but suitable path. While strong negotiation skills propel her deals forward, her low-pressure sales approach inspires client loyalty, and her generosity toward low-income buyers, military families and animals drums up community interest — a magnetic formula. Johri is poised to expand her team from just herself as a sole operator with an assistant to another 10 to 12 buyer’s and seller’s agents in the near future.

‘I hate salespeople’

Johri’s clients are known to drop in and bring her food when they see she is at the office.

What may seem like a small gesture has actually been part of Johri’s real estate business from the start: Rather than selling herself to others, people gravitate toward her.

In fact, although Johri has a CRM, she doesn’t use it.

“I think once you provide fantastic service clients for life, when people ask Realtors how do you stay in touch — I normally don’t, but my clients show up with food, dog biscuits, they say: ‘Here is some coffee, Priyanka, we know how busy you are,'” she said. And her no-sell policy extends to social media, where she talks about dogs and social issues, but rarely real estate.

Johri first got her real estate license in 2008 because she was investing in her own property. In 2012, she became an active Realtor in the upmarket community of The Woodlands — based in the Houston metro area — only after much pressure from her circle of friends, who saw her potential and asked if she would help them with their real estate needs.

In the case of the garage-sale homeowners who recommended her to another couple, she remembers facing resentment despite the referral — these clients already had an agent in mind. But Johri was unfazed.

She sat down in their living room, drank lemonade and asked to hear their story. And it was an interesting one — the couple had been separated during the war, married other partners and then finally reunited in their 70s.

At the end of the visit, the homesellers asked Johri to bring in the listing agreement. They appreciated that she listened to their story. Johri’s reading of the situation? People don’t want to be sold.

“I hate sales people,” she said. “It’s why I didn’t want to become a Realtor; I just wanted to do things the way I wanted someone else to do them for me.”

Problem-solving for low income buyers

Johri is also known in her area for giving money to a number of charities and helping the disadvantaged.

Having fostered pit bulls since she was a student, she runs the Pure Mutts Animal Sanctuary for elderly and disabled dogs. She also gives 20 percent (or more) of each commission to disadvantaged animals.

While most of her clients from the medical field and the petroleum industry are buying in the $500,000 to $1 million range, she also helps teachers, police, firefighters, emergency medical staff and, most recently, veterans of the military buy homes in the $100,000 to $200,000 range. As part of her service, she reduces some of the buying process costs for this clientele.

Priyanka Johri has fostered pit bulls since she was a student.

Around Memorial Day, the Woodlands Eco Realty broker set up the Operation Homes 4 Our Heroes program, designed to help ex-military buy a home with no money down and minimal costs at closing.

For buyers, Johri and a lender partner help ex-military get a zero-percent down payment loan through the Veterans Administration (VA). Johri pays for the inspections, appraisal and home warranty from her side of the gross commission.

For qualifying sellers, Johri offers free surveys and home warranties along with 10 percent of her commission to the seller to go toward closing costs as a credit at the time of closing.

“A lot of military have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; they are either working part time or not working at all, ” she said.

Johri, who serves on the Houston Realtors International Advisory Board and is also part of Texas Realtors’ Leadership program, also helps widows of military. Most of these clients don’t know that, even if their veteran partner has passed away, they can apply for a loan through the VA program.

Although Johri has talked about her programs with the military, teachers and the police on the local media, people generally hear about what she does through word of mouth.

The next step

What motivates Johri? Teachers made a huge difference to her life, growing up in a poor family in India, she says. She wanted more. “I am here because of my teachers,” she says.

“I never fitted into that society. I wanted the good things,” says the alumna from the University of Texas at Arlington.

And the time has come to take the next step. The workload is getting to be too much.

“It’s just me and my assistant. A lot of people ask how do we handle it, working non-stop seven days a week,” she said. “I have a waiting list of clients and buyers who want to work with us, so I’ve decided to hire more members and buyer agents.”

The broker-owner acted on 16 transactions last year totaling close to $10 million, with about one third of her clients being sellers.

Johri thinks she will start with hiring 10 to 12 agents, both on the buy and sell side. “When I do something, I do it big,” she quipped.

Email Gill South.

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